What Does “Ljubljana” Mean?

Sometimes we are so used to the names of things around us that we don’t even think about the meaning they hide inside. There are a lot of them, you need just to look around. If you question yourself with geographic names, this becomes even more interesting because usually, they hide the entire history of this place just in one word.  So what does the word “Ljubljana” mean?

People who are native speakers of Slavic languages would easily recognize the meaning. The word’s part ljub- means “to love”, or “to like”. Thus, the name can be indirectly translated as “beloved”. However, there are more variants of the name’s origin.

Ljubljana is the nowadays capital of the Republic of Slovenia since its independence in 1991. Before that, the city was the capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, when it was a part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after World War II. However, the very first appearance of the word was mentioned in the 12th century.

Now, it is the biggest city of Slovenia, with an area of 163.8 km2 and a population of 286,745 people. The city has high cultural value for Slovenians because the greatest universities, theaters, governmental structures are located here. Also, the city is a place of location of a number of green areas as well as a place of the biggest festivals and concerts happening.

The Meaning

Scientists cannot come to a common version of the descent of the meaning. In most of the Slavic languages, the part ljub- means “to love” or “to like”. This version was provided by the linguist Tijmen Pronk and supported by other scientists. To mention him, he is a specialist in comparative Indo-European linguistics and Slovene dialectology, working at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands.

Also, linguists agree that the name of the city derives from the name of Ljubija, the original name of the Ljubljanica River. This is the beautiful river flowing through the city. In its turn, the name of the river comes from the Old Slavic male name Ljubovid, which usually is translated as “the one of a lovely appearance”. This thesis was proposed by the linguist Silvo Torkar, who is a specialist in Slovene personal and place names.

The biggest confusion comes when comparing the Slavic name “Ljubljana” with the German version “Laibach”. Some sources claim that derives from the name of the Laubach marshland. The other one says that the origin is a Slavic-Roman word Luwigana, which was an ancient equivalent for the modern name. Some people found a relation between an old Slavic deity called Laburus, that meaning is connected to Slavic gods.

Romans, who settled first this territory, called this place “Iulia Emona”. The beginning and the ending of this word reminds the modern name of the city as well. Moreover, there is one more similar name in old Roman “alluviana”, which means “a flooding river”. Therefore, even this version does allusion to the river, too.

In general, the most popular meaning still remains the one deriving from old Slavic ljub-. In this case, the modern name of the city can be indirectly translated as “Beloved”, which perfectly represents the feeling of the city.

The Symbol

Interesting enough, but the symbol of the city, the Ljubljana Dragon, has an indirect connection to the name. The dragon appears on the three most significant for Ljubljana places: on the official coat of arms of the city, on the top of the tower of Ljubljana Castle, and the most beloved by tourists, on the Dragon Bridge, that crosses the Ljubljanica River.

There are several myths about this dragon. A Slavic one tells a story that the dragon releases water and thus provides fertility. That’s how Ljubljana became so beautiful and “beloved” by people. Also, the dragon protects people from flooding from the Ljubljana Marshes.

A Greek legend says that Argonauts found a monster on one of the marshes near Ljubljana. They struck him down, so he evolved into the dragon that protects the city now.

On the other side, the most historically believable version is regarding Saint George, who was the patron of the Ljubljana Castle chapel built in the 15th century. In this legend, his defeat of the dragon represents Christianity overcoming paganism. However, there is a still question of why the dragon was left on the coat of arms if it had been defeated. Why didn’t they put a cross or something more religious?

Cultural and Historical Briefing

Ljubljana experienced a lot of changes throughout its history. However, it would never become “beloved” without all these achievements and people who loved their city.

From the 12th century, it became the capital of the historical region Carniola. It was administered by the Counts of Gorizia starting from 1279 and until 1335, hence it was under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. After that time, it was first renamed Laibach and was owned by the House of Habsburg until 1797.

In spite of this fact, 70% of the population here spoke the Slovene language as their first one.

There was a short period in history when the city was under the control of the Napoleon Empire from 1809 to 1813. At that time, French people renamed it Laybach, and it became the capital of the Illyrian Provinces. However, in a short period, it returned under Austrian control again, and from 1815 to 1849, it was the administrative center of the Kingdom of Illyria of the Austrian Empire.

Then, after the dissolution of the last one, the region joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Ljubljana was the capital of the Drava Banovina, almost a present-day Slovenia shaped Yugoslav province. Also, during World War II, Fascist Italy occupied the territory, renamed the city “Lubiana”, which became the capital of Italy’s Province of Ljubljana. After the war, the city became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, when Slovenia joined the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In 1991, the country gained independence, and Ljubljana became the capital of the Republic of Slovenia. In 2004, it joined the European Union, so it became visa-free to enter for any European citizen.

What Makes This Place “Beloved”?

Ljubljana is a city that is full of interesting places. In the very heart of it, there is Prešeren Square, dedicated to one of the most significant national figures of Slovenia. Franc Prešeren is the author of the lyrics of the official hymn of the republic. The highest cultural prize, the Prešeren Award, is named in his honor. In the center is the square, it is located a beautiful monument of him.

Ljubljana Castle is a pearl of the city. It is a place located on Castle Hill, which includes Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architectural elements. The castle is the former residence of the Dukes of Carniola as well as nowadays residence of Ljubljana Festival, one of the biggest and oldest festivals in the entire post-Yugoslav territory.

Of course, a must-see is a main watercourse of Ljubljana, the Ljubljanica River, that flows across the city. You can even have a ride on a local boat. Furthermore, the city is very green and eco-friendly. Tivoli City Park is the biggest one, also here you can find Tivoli Castle, which looks more like a mansion than a castle.

If there is a river flowing through the city then there are many bridges. Most of them are adorably decorated. We already mentioned the Dragons Bridge, which is protected by dragons, but there is, for example, the Butchers’ Bridge, where you can observe sculptures from Ancient Greek mythology and Biblical stories.

The city is full of life, you can find approximately 10,000 cultural events taking place here each year, including theatre, music, and art festivals. On the other hand, if you are tired of city life, not so far from the city, there are the Ljubljana Marshes, that were included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage. This is a natural area of swamps that covers about 160 square kilometers. The marshes are also known for rare animals and plant species.


Ljubljana has a complicated story of the name’s origin. This comes from the complex history of Slovenians as well as these territories. The city was under the control of different countries and empires. However, it saved the original meaning through centuries.

The city takes its name from the river. The world itself happens to stay in most of the Slavic languages, and meaning is close to “beloved”. This perfectly represents the city. As it is known how you name the ship, this will be its fate. A similar situation to the city. People know that they live in a beautiful city with a lovely name that means “beloved”, so they will do everything to coordinate with the name and improve even more the environment.

Therefore, we do recommend feeling it in your own experience. Even several days of stay here will give you the experience of love and enjoyment.  

Thank you for reading our article. We do our best to provide you with first-hand information about Slovenia and its wonders. We know we are not infallible though. In case you encounter any mistakes in our articles or you have any suggestions, please contact us. Let us know how we could improve. It will help us to keep our information updated and deliver to readers the most valuable possible content.  We will gladly take your suggestions!

One Comment

  1. Pingback: The Artistic and Cultural Heritage of Slovenian Idrija Lace

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *